Having Difficulty Discerning? Try These Spiritual Exercises
I recently came across a survey entitled New Sisters and Brothers Professing Perpetual Vows in Religious Life. Conducted by the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate (CARA), this report is "a national survey of women and men religious who professed perpetual vows in 2014 in a religious congregation, province, or monastery based in the United States."
"Private Prayer Practices and Prayer Groups" is the chapter that attracted me. It lists the spiritual exercises in which they were participating on a regular basis prior to entering religious communities. These spiritual exercises also helped them be open to a religious vocation. I'd like to highlight the top three:
1. 73 percent say they were doing eucharistic adoration.
2. 72 percent say they were praying the rosary.
3. 62 percent say they made a retreat.
Why do these spiritual practices successfully help nurture a religious vocation?
Eucharistic adoration. Praying before the Blessed Sacrament unites a person more closely with Jesus, who loves us unconditionally. In my own life, the Blessed Sacrament chapel has been the site of many memorable religious moments. There I have bargained with Jesus. There I have shed tears. There I have found myself falling asleep because of exhaustion. There I have made many important life decisions. I do go there to pray, but I often find myself just sitting in silence. Simply being in the presence of Jesus nourishes and sustains me.
Praying before the Blessed Sacrament invites the individual to a relationship where he or she feels most loved (despite personal failings), most assured (despite personal fears), and most peaceful (despite personal confusion). A religious vocation grows when one feels that kind of love and assurance from Jesus.
Rosary. When a person prays the rosary, Mary helps him or her form a heart that goes out to those in need. A few years ago I went on a pilgrimage to Lourdes in France. The sight of hundreds of people with canes and in wheelchairs really struck me! Mary does have a special love for the,se people. It's no wonder she is called "comforter of the afflicted," "refuge of sinners," "help of Christians," and "health of the sick" in the litany recited after the rosary.
Mary helps people spend time with those Jesus spent time with. She helps people learn to care about those Jesus cared about. A religious vocation grows when a person develops and shows a special concern for those in need.
Retreat. A retreat brings a person to the classroom of silence, where he or she can more easily and readily listen to the gentle voice of Jesus. I have enjoyed reading Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis. The characters Screwtape and Wormwood talk about taking a person away from God and sending him to hell. Wormwood comes up with ways to tempt the person assigned him. Screwtape says everything has been done and nothing has worked. Then Screwtape tells Wormwood there's one method guaranteed to work: Create so much noise in the life of that person that he can no longer hear the voice of God! Right on, C.S. Lewis!
We struggle spiritually because we live in a very noisy society and are drowning in a sea of voices. A religious vocation grows when the individual enters the classroom of silence and there spends time attuning his or her heart and mind to the voice of Jesus.
Pray before the Blessed Sacrament. Come to Mary through the rosary. Go on a retreat and enter the classroom of silence. Try these time-tested, saint-sanctioned, and altogether trustworthy ways, and I guarantee you'll find clarity in your discernment. Then I'll be waiting for your phone call to inform me you'd like to talk about joining Glenmary!